Allium Bar & Grill
By EssentialsMAG food critic SALLY ANGLESEA
Allium Bar & Grill by Mark Ellis
Lynedale House, High Street, Tattenhall, Cheshire CH3 9PX
Cost for three course meal, for two people, without drinks: £50 - £60.
I’ve always said; if I were a vegetable, I'd be an onion (conversations with me are both riveting and insightful). There are a few reasons behind this:
I have an overwhelming ability to make people cry.
There are many layers to my personality. And often my desserts. And therefore my stomach rolls.
I’m a great addition to a dinner party (although I might make you cry).
If you left me in a cupboard for an extended period of time, I'd probably start to smell.
So, considering my allium-esque allure, it’s no surprise that Mark Ellis’ aptly named Tattenhall haunt was one I found myself particularly drawn to…
‘Allium by Mark Ellis’ is set within a beautifully restored 19th century townhouse and by contrast, serves up a tantalising selection of BBQ classics. This two-tone, or perhaps I should say ‘layered’, approach is further projected through the design of the restaurant’s interior - homely gingham booths, wide bay windows and softly coloured surroundings welcome you in, whilst vintage chandeliers, ornamental stag heads and writing on the literal wall awaken you to a trendier edge. The combination works, like onion and garlic; gin and tonic; Christmas and weight gain; chips and ice cream - don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.
Having trained with local Michelin star Head Chef, Simon Radley, Mark worked as senior sous chef at Chester Grosvenor for a number of years, before moving on to work alongside Gordon Ramsey (although he doesn’t seem to have inherited his intrinsic ability to intersperse every other word with fu…nky language). From there, he’s held the title of Head Chef in a number of highly regarded restaurants - and I was about to taste why…
My friend, Claire, and I visited The Allium on a bustling Friday evening. The bar was lively, the atmosphere was energised and very quickly, our glasses were clinking. Priced at a very reasonable £24, we had swiftly ordered a bottle of prosecco, which Selena, our wonderful waitress, recommended we pair with black currant liqueur. Selflessly, we agreed (well, we didn’t want to hurt her feelings…) and two bottles of prosecco later, Claire and I concurred it had been a very *hic* wise recommendation.
The food menu is satisfyingly simple, with each dish labelled distinctly and without pretension: ‘Pig’, ‘Beef’, ‘Hake’, ‘Dirty’…I’ll let you discover for yourself what the latter means. With stomachs rumbling, we went straight in for some ‘Jumbo Shrimp’ and as an overflowing bowl of deep fried, golden king prawns arrived, I immediately knew this was about to become the second wise decision of the evening. Crispy, light, slightly salted batter surrounded fresh, rose-striped tiger prawns which, importantly but increasingly rarely, had been immaculately cleaned. They were perfectly cooked and judging by both their texture and taste, had evidently been prepared from fresh rather than frozen. They were served with a homemade bird’s eye chili mayonnaise, which was slightly fiery and fiercely flavoursome. This creamy condiment was the ideal partner for a juicy jumbo prawn and we happily doused our battered beauties in lashings of the stuff. At £5, the price was almost as delicious as the dish itself, and as a starter, the small portion was the perfect size. If you’d prefer to share, or you just have an admirable appetite, there is also a large option available.
Upon Mark’s recommendation (who, despite rustling up culinary wonders in the kitchen all evening, still found the time to pop out and see us), we then opted for ‘Zucchini’ and ‘T.S.F. (Tattanhall Southern Fried) Chicken Wings’. The slightly spiced, crispy T.S.F coating on the chicken wings soon had them taking flight straight from the bowl and into my mouth. The meat was beautifully tender – unsurprising, given the fact that each wing is brined for 12 hours and then marinated in buttermilk for an additional 24, before being coated and cooked. I ripped moist meat from those bones like a carnivorous savage and before Claire could get a look in, the majority of them had been devoured. I would have blamed it on stingy portions but the remaining bones piled on my plate proved to be a bit of a giveaway.
The ‘Zucchini’, or ‘courgette’ as we know it, wasn’t quite as exciting. You know that one guest who leaves the party and you don’t actually notice until hours later? (If you don’t, it’s probably because it’s you.) That was this dish. Marinated and chargrilled slices of slightly unsexy courgette sat amongst far sexier puddles of warm goats cheese. The veg itself, which is homegrown, had a pleasantly smoky edge to it and the goats cheese contributed a satistfying tang, but the texture of the dish was crying out for some crunch and just a little more depth in terms of flavour. I admire Mark and his team for attempting to celebrate this humble veg in such a stripped back way but overall, it was just a little underwhelming; particularly after the highflying delights of the T.S.F wings.
Our main courses of choice were two rather contrasting dishes: to my left, a delicate fillet of fish, in the form of roasted Hake and to my right, a hefty hunk of glistening meat, in the form of Treacle glazed Beef Rib. Served with skin-on fries, homemade coleslaw and corn on the cob, the generous portion of beef is sure to have you reaching for your Stetson whilst desperately resisting the urge to cry ‘YEEHAW’! Somehow, I actually managed to suppress my instinct to do so, much to Claire’s relief. A true American BBQ classic, it was the rich flavour of the glaze that really got my horses bucking; beautifully balanced with sweet, sticky treacle and a mellow hint of Nashville honey bourbon. The robust rib was doused in the stuff, which also allowed for satisfyingly saucy chip-dips, mid meaty mouthfuls (oh, I bloody love a bit of alliteration).
As a meat loving beef buff, I was sure the treacle rib would be my favourite feature but alas, it was trumped (no American arsehole inspired pun intended) by the roasted Hake. Elegantly balanced atop an array of delightful accompaniments, Claire and I both agreed that if this dish were a movie character, it would be Mary Poppins: perfect in every way. Faultlessly cooked and ingeniously accompanied with roasted fennel, crispy new potatoes, salty bacon and sweet charred pepper salsa, every element of this dish were delightfully necessary and exquisitely executed.
Having now consumed a significant amount of food, including a large portion of cow, I was reminded of my seemingly multiple stomachs. Cows have four of them and I’m sure I have at least two, because regardless of how much savoury food I eat, I will ALWAYS have room for some sweet. So, out came the puds…
As usual, I opted for the most chocolatey offering - Cookies and Cream, which involved chocolate chip cookies, served with chocolate milkshake. The cookies were warm, soft and buttery, although I would definitely have liked more choc chips (shock). The frothy, creamy, dreamy milkshake was my favourite element, which I slurped and dunked my warm cookies into with childish delight.
Claire clearly learnt from the chicken wing savaging and opted for one of my least favourite sweets: Warm Apple Pie. I’m just one of those fat-minded people who don’t embrace the prospect of anything remotely healthy being involved in dessert. This apple pie, however, was close to convincing me otherwise: presented in an individual casing, the apple filling was fresh, fruity and zingy, providing the perfect balance between sweet and tart. The homemade pastry was crisp and toasty, and deliciously complemented by creamy vanilla ice cream, sharp blackberries and a sweet custard style sauce. Both desserts offered a nostalgic denouement to an already nourishing narrative.
The Allium is a humble haven in the heart of Tattenhall, offering culinary cuddles through comfort food that is lovingly created, locally sourced and ethically produced. Mark has a ‘waste not, want not’ attitude that is genuinely refreshing and thriftily thrilling. He keeps food waste to a minimum, by creating a menu that feeds itself - oil from typically discarded parmesan rind is infused into the cream sauce used for mac ‘n’ cheese; leftover meat bones are used to create flavour-dense stock; and even leftover vegetable peelings are turned into crispy, salted bar snacks. His layers of experience shine through the quality of the food and the care that is taken in presenting it. From attentive service to a carefully crafted, very reasonably priced menu, the many layers of this restaurant are ones I would encourage you to peel back - regardless of whether or not you resemble an onion.
Festive Feasting – Mark and his team are offering up a taste bud tingling, sleigh bell jingling Christmas menu that is sure to ignite your festive spirit! With mulled wine, festive cocktails and mince pies available at the bar too, The Allium is the place to be this Crimbo.
Snaffle and Snooze - The Allium offers a selection of beautiful rooms to choose from, so get yourself booked in for the night and let the wine and wings flow and fly as freely as you like!
Outside Catering – the culinary delights of The Allium can also be experienced beyond the restaurant. Offering a bespoke planning service, Allium Outside Catering Company could be the perfect option for your next special event.
For more foodie fanaticism and photos, follow Sally on Instagram: @gingernutsaboutfood